Martin Wong

Born: July 11, 1946, Portland, OR
Died: August 12, 1999, San Francisco, CA

Martin Wong first exhibited work in his hometown of San Francisco in 1959. Wong’s early works reflect the psychedelic era and his interest in the diverse cultures of Asia. Beginning in 1964, Wong spent fifteen years in Eureka, CA. His paintings, ceramics, and calligraphy from this period include eclectic imagery drawn from Eastern mythologies, local scenes, and toys. He maintained an artistic presence in San Francisco through the outdoor exhibitions of the San Francisco Arts Festival and in his creation of stage sets and props for the San Francisco alternative theater troupe The Angels of Light.

In 1978, Wong moved to New York City, where he became associated with the cultural developments of the Lower East Side, working alongside artists such as Kiki Smith and David Wojnarowicz. Wong’s uniquely representational imagery encompassed the urban environment, the history and stereotypes of Chinatown, and homoerotic content. Wong used text created with signing hands in much of his work, likening it to the esoteric inscriptions in ancient Chinese painting. He received several awards, including the 1993 New York City Council’s All Star Salute to Chinese American Cultural Pioneers. In New York, Wong was also known as a wide-ranging collector – especially of the work of the pioneers of graffiti art.

Wong’s work has been included in innumerable group exhibitions in museums in the United States, Mexico, Spain and Germany – as well as solo exhibitions at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, San Francisco Art Institute, Exit Art, and PPOW gallery in New York.

Wong returned to San Francisco for much of the final five years of his life. He painted up to the day of his death from complications related to AIDS.